San Diego State thriving thanks to coach's tough love

By Ryan LavnerMay 27, 2016, 10:18 pm

EUGENE, Ore. – San Diego State coach Ryan Donovan has been known to take a tough-love approach with his players.

Doesn’t matter what you’ve won, where you’ve been or what you’re ranked – if you play poorly, you’re going to ride the bench.

“That’s kind of my M.O.,” Donovan said Friday. “I don’t like to give my guys handouts.”

Junior Nahum Mendoza III found that out the hard way.

A local kid who was lightly recruited, Mendoza decided to stay close to home for college and walked on to the team without a scholarship. He slacked off his first semester and drew the ire of his coach, who suggested that he either dedicate more time to his game or find another program.

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At the recommendation of former SDSU standout Xander Schauffele, Mendoza began working with swing coach Cameron McCormick, Jordan Spieth's longtime teacher, in December 2014. Individual results were slow to come, but Mendoza noticed improvement in the “scoring zone” inside 130 yards, where he eliminated mistakes and gave himself more birdie opportunities.

“I understand what I have to do to make the ball do what I want it to do,” he said. “I mastered my own swing.”

Though Mendoza had only the fourth-best scoring average last season, Donovan saw enough development that he offered Mendoza some scholarship money for the first time after his sophomore season. But after a lazy summer, Mendoza wasn’t sharp enough to crack the starting five last fall. He counted in only one of the team’s four events.

“He was just very average,” Donovan said. “We stick to our guns a little bit. Our goal is to put the best five guys out every week, and he just wasn’t cutting it.

“He came to me after the third (benching), and he was like, What’s up? I said, ‘You’ve got to earn it. You’re not impressive to me. I don’t think you’re working very hard. You need to prove it to me.’ He finally did, and he hasn’t looked back since.”

Mendoza began the spring season with five consecutive top-10s, including a fourth-place finish at Arizona State’s event, where he needed a par on the last to win but instead made triple.

“He wasn’t even fazed by it,” Donovan said. “He was like, ‘I’m going to be here a lot of times. It was just one bad swing.’ It’s almost like it goes right through him and he doesn’t even realize.”

It’s that blend of confidence and naiveté that has Donovan convinced that Mendoza will land on the PGA Tour eventually. Now that Mendoza has experienced some success, Donovan said, “He’s into it. He’s super motivated.”

Recently named to the U.S. Palmer Cup team, Mendoza entered this week’s NCAA Championship at No. 27 in Golfstat’s individual rankings. He opened with a 3-under 67 Friday to share the early lead.

“I didn’t really see it going this crazy,” Mendoza said of his season, “but Coach Donovan really got me taking it more seriously.”

And this wasn’t the first time this season that Donovan has had to deal one of his players a cold dose of reality.

Gunn Yang, the unlikely U.S. Amateur champion in 2014, returned to school last fall after taking a year off to play pro and amateur events. His game has been so uneven since that Donovan sat him for an event just a few weeks ago.

Yang proved himself worthy of a lineup spot in practice, and he ended up playing a pivotal role in the Aztecs’ appearance here in Eugene.

San Diego State was 11 shots off the fifth-place cut line with nine holes to play at the Albuquerque regional, where it was cold, windy and downright miserable.

“I felt like I was checked out for most of regionals,” Donovan said. “With nine holes to go, we needed a miracle.”

In the difficult conditions, Donovan told his team to simply make pars. The Aztecs shot even par on the back nine to tie Texas A&M for the fifth and final qualifying spot.

Donovan had walked with Yang the entire regional, and he decided to go one more hole in the play-five, count-four team playoff format. With Yang sizing up his 215-yard approach into the par-5 18th, Donovan instructed him to land his 7-iron shot left of the flag.

“The ball landed like a butterfly,” he said. “It went in like a 6-foot putt.”

The albatross helped lift San Diego State to the playoff victory and an NCAA berth. And now the Aztecs have kept rolling, for one day at least – their 3-over 283 was one of the best rounds of the morning wave Friday.

“I light the fire when I think it’s right,” Donovan said. “They know it’s not personal. We treat it like a business. We've got some guys who are a little rough around the edges, but they’re not intimidated by anybody. They’ve certainly shown that.”

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After Further Review: Tiger's return comes at perfect time

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 22, 2018, 2:19 am

Each week, takes a look back at the week in golf. Here's what's weighing on our writers' minds.

On the current state of golf as Tiger Woods returns to competition ...

Less than four days before Tiger Woods returns to official competitive golf for the first time in a year, Jon Rahm, the new second-ranked player in the world, won on the PGA Tour and Rory McIlroy made an impressive 2018 debut on the European Tour (T-3).

Not since Ben Hogan, Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus crossed paths at the 1960 U.S. Open has there been so many superstars all poised for big seasons, with world No. 1 Dustin Johnson having already won this year and Jordan Spieth and Justin Thomas both coming off stellar seasons.

It’s a good time for golf. - Rex Hoggard

On Tommy Fleetwood's continued success ...

There have been scores of talented European players whose skills didn’t translate to the PGA Tour … and maybe, in a few years, Tommy Fleetwood will prove to be no different.

He sure looks like the real deal, though.  

His title defense in Abu Dhabi – on the strength of a back-nine 30 in windy conditions – was his third title in the past 12 months and 11th top-10 overall. A few of those have come in majors and World Golf Championship events, too, which led the reigning Race to Dubai champion to accept PGA Tour membership for this season.

Beginning at Riviera, he plans to play exclusively in the States through May, then reassess for the rest of the year. Hope he sticks, because he’s a fun personality with tons of game. - Ryan Lavner

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Rahm passes Spieth to become world No. 2

By Nick MentaJanuary 22, 2018, 1:25 am

With his win Sunday at the CareerBuilder Challenge, Jon Rahm picked up his second PGA Tour victory and moved to No. 2 in the FedExCup points standings.

He picked up one more No. 2, too.

The 23-year-old Spaniard passed Jordan Spieth to move to No. 2 in the Official World Golf Ranking, behind only Dustin Johnson.

In 19 months, since June 2016, Rahm has rocketed from No. 776 in the world to No. 2, thanks in part to his low divisor, his number of events played.

Asked after his playoff victory over Andrew Landry to discuss his rapid ascent up the world rankings, Rahm was almost at a loss.

“It's hard to believe to be honest, passing Jordan Spieth,” he said. “That's a three-time major champion. I only have two wins. He's got 10-plus, right? It's again – I've said it many times – I never thought I was going to be at this point in my life right now.”

Rahm may only have two PGA Tour titles, but this is his fourth worldwide win in the last year, dating back to last season’s Farmers Insurance Open. He also took the Dubai Duty Free Irish Open and the DP World Tour Championship on his way to claiming the European Tour’s 2017 Rookie of the Year Award.

Dating back to the start of last season on the PGA Tour, Rahm has racked up 12 top-10s, three runner-ups, and two wins.

He will head to Torrey Pines next week ready to defend for the first time.

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Brady compares self to Woods after winning AFC title

By Jason CrookJanuary 22, 2018, 1:05 am

Tom Brady and Tiger Woods are two of the all-time greats in their respective sports ... a fact that is not lost on the five-time Super Bowl winning quarterback.

Fresh off leading the New England Patriots to a AFC Championship victory over the Jacksonville Jaguars, Brady was asked about winning the game despite a cut on his throwing hand - which made national news heading into the matchup.

His response invoked the name of a certain 14-time major winner, something that would be tough to pull off, if not for the fact that he is, you know, Tom Brady.

“I think it's kind of arrogant to say it bothered me when we had a pretty good game, so I wouldn't say that," the 40-year-old told reporters after the game. "It's like when Tiger Woods said, ‘That was my C game’ and he won the tournament."

Tiger Woods winning with his "C game" may be a distant memory for golf fans, but no matter what game he brings, his next chance to win comes next week at Torrey Pines during his official comeback to the PGA Tour.

Brady has a shot at his sixth Super Bowl title in two weeks. The Patriots would probably benefit from him bringing a little better than his "C game" as well.

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Rahm beats Landry in playoff to win CareerBuilder

By Nick MentaJanuary 22, 2018, 1:00 am

Jon Rahm birdied the fourth extra hole Sunday to defeat Andrew Landry in a playoff, win the CareerBuilder Challenge and move to No. 2 in the Official World Golf Ranking. Here’s how things played out in overtime at PGA West:

Leaderboard: Rahm (-22), Landry (-22), John Huh (-20), Adam Hadwin (-20), Martin Piller (-20), Kevin Chappell (-19), Scott Piercy (-19)

What it means: This is Rahm’s second PGA Tour win and his fourth worldwide victory in the last year, dating back to last season’s Farmers Insurance Open. Rahm took the early lead Thursday with an opening 62 and after rounds of 67-70, he started the final round two back. On Sunday, he made five birdies without dropping a single shot on the intimidating Stadium Course. In the clubhouse at 22 under, Rahm watched as Landry made birdie on 18 to force a playoff.

Rahm missed birdie putts that would have ended the tournament on the final hole of regulation and on each playoff hole. Finally, on his fourth trip down 18 of the day, his birdie bid found the cup. With the victory, Rahm passes Jordan Spieth to move to No. 2 in the Official World Golf Ranking, trailing only Dustin Johnson. He enters next week at Torrey Pines looking to defend for the first time.

Best of the rest: A two-time winner playing his second full season on the PGA Tour, Landry shot 68 Sunday, making birdie on the 72nd hole to force extras. Once Rahm finally made birdie on the fourth playoff hole, Landry's putt to extend slid by on the right edge. This is Landry's best career finish on the PGA Tour. Had he won, he would have secured full Tour status through the 2019-20 season and earned invites to the Masters, Players, and PGA Championships.

Round of the day: Sam Saunders fired an 8-under 64 to register this best finish of the season, a tie for eighth at 18 under. The reigning Tour Championship winner was 9 under par through 12 holes before making bogey at 13 and parring his way into the clubhouse.

Biggest disappointment: Overnight leader Austin Cook was eyeing his second win of the season but never contended. The RSM champion carded two double bogeys Sunday en route to a 3-over 75, dropping him from the 54-hole lead to a tie for 14th.

Shot of the day: Rahm's putt to win:

Quote of the day: "One of us had to do it and either one of us would have been a well-deserving champion." - Rahm on his playoff victory over Landry